USA Cycling has its eyes on bringing home more medals at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. With that in mind, the nation’s governing body will bring back a national team for 51 athletes across all disciplines of the sport, even those not contested in the Olympics.
After meeting with several 2018 national team members and media Wednesday in Colorado Springs, USA Cycling announced the team’s selections and criteria for riders hoping to gain national team status.
“I think it gives a lot of clarity to what exactly the national team is with USA Cycling,” said Durango’s Howard Grotts, who represented USA Cycling at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. “It’s been ambiguous in the past. Now, everyone can see what criteria there is to get on the national team and what level of support they will provide at each level with gold, silver and bronze levels of support on the national team.”
National team members include athletes from BMX freestyle, BMX supercross, cyclocross, mountain biking, road cycling, track endurance and track sprint. Team members include elite professionals and under-23 riders. Grotts and fellow Durangoan Christopher Blevins were the only men named to the mountain bike team along with a strong list of five women.
“The very big goal is to get medals in Tokyo,” said Blevins, the under-23 national champion in cross-country mountain biking. “That’s what they’re building around. And it’s not just in the road discipline, it’s all of them. It’s exciting to be building momentum right now and looking ahead.
“There will be a lot more structure in how they’re helping athletes develop and getting the whole program behind it. I think that’s exciting for everyone in America who rides.”
Though Olympic and World Championship rosters won’t be automatically decided based on national team selection and specific criteria will still need to be met for selection, athletes on the national team will have access to the Olympic Training Center, coaching staff, nutritionists, sports psychologists, sports medicine and trainers.
“I’ve been working really closely with USA Cycling as the (Athletes’ Advisory Council) rep, and I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Durango’s Carmen Small, a recently retired road cyclist who famously was left off the 2016 Olympic roster despite winning the 2016 national title in the time trial. “Scott Schnitzspahn, the new Vice President of Elite Athletics, is really good and has the athletes’ best interest first.”
Athletes who reach the gold level of benefits can earn up to an extra $25,000 a year and health benefits from USA Cycling. However, to reach gold level as a mountain biker, a rider must be top three in an elite UCI Cross-Country World Championship race or top-three overall in the UCI Cross-Country World Cup rankings. Silver level athletes can make $12,500 and gain benefits.
Silver men mountain bikers need to be top eight at the World Championships, top five in a World Cup race or top 20 in the World Cup rankings. The women’s silver category for mountain bike will be top five at world championships, top three at a World Cup race or top 10 in the World Cup rankings. Bronze level athletes do not receive additional pay or elite athlete health insurance, but will have full access to the Olympic Training Center, coaches and more.
“I did not achieve my success alone, and I know others can’t either,” USA Cycling coach and three-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong said in a news release. “I was excited to join the USA Cycling coaching team, and collectively we look forward to sharing our expertise and providing an exceptional level of support for athletes through the new national team program.”
Riders such as Blevins and Grotts will now have full support at any World Cup event they choose to compete in, including those their Specialized sponsor does not provide support for. Because cyclists are independent contractors typically signed with team sponsors, they will juggle the obligations of their sponsors while also having a chance to ride in more international competitions with the support of USA Cycling.
“I think once we get closer to that Olympic year, the schedule will be more World Cup heavy,” Grotts said. “Hopefully USA Cycling’s national team will help fill in those gaps and provide the resources I might need to start performing at World Cups. It will be interesting to see how it ends up working and if it encourages more good results.”
USA Cycling CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall said there has not been a formal national team in nearly two decades, and the organization felt it was time to provide the next level of support to the nation’s riders.
“We are introducing the USA Cycling national team now to help our Olympic and World Championship contenders achieve their absolute best, clarify for all elite athletes how to attain USA Cycling’s top level of support and create a clear path and goals for developing athletes that aspire to Olympic and international success,” he said in the news release.
Schnitzspahn said the organization was able to launch the new program thanks to the U.S. Olympic Committee, the USA Cycling Foundation and its corporate partners.
The 51 athletes selected for the national teams for 2018 are riders who have already met the criteria to be at least a bronze level athlete. Grotts was thrilled to see the national team include disciplines such as cyclocross and hopes to see downhill mountain biking get support, too.
Though only 51 athletes were initially named to the teams, cyclists can earn national team status throughout the year by meeting the criteria laid out by USA Cycling. Athletes named to the team Wednesday also can lose national team status based on results.
“This is a truly stellar group of athletes that have earned this honor,” Jim Miller, Vice President of High Performance for USA Cycling, said in the news release. “We designed the national team program to have a very high bar – all these athletes have achieved remarkable international success. I look forward to more athletes meeting those standards, and we have structured the program so that as new athletes meet the criteria, they too can join the national team.
“This is a dynamic, performance based process, and additional athletes can earn their way onto the national team with their performance. Conversely, those athletes named today will have to keep earning the privilege to remain a member of this elite team.”
USA Cycling’s hope is that the new program will outline a path for beginning cyclists who want to know the process it takes to become an Olympian or World Championship team member.
“The national team is only part of the story. We are equally excited about our refined development pathways for each discipline,” Miller said. “We wanted to clarify for athletes what the path is from grassroots to Olympic champion. Elite athletes don’t start out elite – they need to develop, and we want to help athletes understand what that process looks like as much as possible.”